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Hero: The Story of a Leader Dog Dad Turned Leader Dog

Yellow lab wearing blue Leader Dog Dad bandanna

Meet Hero, a 3-year-old Labrador retriever who was raised in the prison system as part of our Prison Puppies initiative. When he came back to Leader Dog to go into formal training, our breeding team determined he would become a breeding dog instead, making him Leader Dog Dad Hero.

In March of 2021, he met his breeding hosts, Carrie and Geoff. They immediately fell in love and took Hero home. He fit right in, and Carrie and Geoff were so happy to be hosting a dog that would produce Future Leader Dogs to change people’s lives.

Yellow lab lying its head on smiling man's lap
Geoff and Hero

After a few litters, Hero’s breeding career came to an end early in July of 2022. When that happens, our breeding dogs become the host family’s pet. However, after much thought, Carrie and Geoff believed Hero was destined for more. “We both have people in our lives who may be affected with vision loss down the line,” said Carrie. Knowing how exceptional Hero was, they wanted to give him a chance to change someone’s life. “We believe in him, and we believe in the program.” Hero was evaluated and it was determined that he was fit to come back to Leader Dog for formal guide dog training. A bittersweet moment for Carrie and Geoff as Hero was off to Leader Dog again.

Yellow lab sitting next to smiling woman kneeling on ground with grass behind
Hero with his instructor, Emily

For formal training, Hero was paired with Guide Dog Mobility Instructor Emily Rowland. She worked with him for four months. “I cannot express how grateful I am to Carrie and Geoff for their selfless decision to offer Hero back into the training program. I tear up every time I think of when Carrie told me that she knew someone else needed Hero.  Hero’s journey is truly unique and touching with so many people to thank for making it possible: his inmate raisers, Carrie and Geoff and all the people who cared for him along the way,” said Emily. Even though Hero was in formal training, on his off weekends, he was able to spend time with Carrie and Geoff, who were grateful to get extra time with him.

During training he was sweet, gentle and playful and effortlessly won over everyone he met. Hero’s nature to be calm, patient and eager to please were all great qualities that led him to become a Leader Dog for a client in Spain. “We look for dogs that are confident in new situations, very adaptable and able to generalize their skills quickly. We know the dogs going out of the country will be working in environments that are very different than the ones we train in the metro Detroit area,” said Emily.

Three yellow labs in harness standing next to three women in winter clothes in a lobby area
Hero and two of his offspring in training together

It was a hard day for Carrie and Geoff when they found out Hero was paired with a client from Spain. They had no doubt that he would make it through training and give someone else the independence they’d been waiting for. What made it easier was meeting the person whose life Hero was changing. “Just to hear how long [Hero’s client] has waited and what she’s been through, it kind of erased any doubts that we had,” said Carrie.

The definition of a hero is someone who is admired or idealized for courage, outstanding achievements or noble qualities. There were many acts of heroism along Leader Dog Hero’s journey. As his official Leader Dog journey is just beginning with his client, his legacy lives on as five of his offspring are in advanced training to become Leader Dogs.